Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Bugs, Ticks, and Heat, Oh My!!!

This was the weekend that we had reservations at Fort Robinson. I was both excited and a bit hesitant. Excited because camping with Ashke is a lifelong dream; hesitant because Fort Robinson is the fort where Tasunke Witko was murdered by white soldiers while his sworn brother held his arms. Because Crazy Horse is my hero, I was afraid I was going to feel emotional, but that is only because I forgot whose agency the Fort is built on.

We got the camper prepped and stuff loaded on Friday morning, including the food we would need for the weekend (I forgot salt/pepper, butter, oil of any kind, and bottled water). We hooked up the trailer, loaded Ashke and hit the road at 1 pm on the nose.

Our Rig.

 Then we spent twenty minutes sitting in line waiting for the train. The ride out was easy, no traffic, no stress sort of affair. We pulled into the camp ground a little bit before six. I checked us in and got Ashke set up in his stall. Then we set up the truck camper, warmed a can of chili on the stove, and then went back to do a short evening ride to help Ashke set in. 

Inside the camper.

Dinner of Champions, right there.

Moon over Ashke


Fort Robinson, NE
Sun Setting

The stalls for the horses were really nice, but it was more than a ten minute walk from the camping spot to the stall. That made me really stressed. I woke at 1:19 am when I woke in a panic, worried that he was okay. I finally got up at 6:19, put on clothes, and went out to check. He was fine, but not really eating. I pulled all of the hay out of the bag, since he refused to eat it at Expo as well. I refilled with fresh alfalfa, put some grass on the floor of the stall, and then gave him a solid grain feed with lots of carrots. Hiking back to the camper was fun. It was already close to 70 at nine in the morning, but the forecast had the temp topping out at 85 or so. I cooked a really yummy mix of bacon, potatoes, tomatoes and egg for breakfast burritos, then J and I got ready to ride. We had decided the night before to ride out on the Red Cloud trail.

Kicking ass in the morning

Part of the Fort grounds

Looking west and south, standing at the trailhead for the Red Cloud trail

Windmill at the water trough. There were markers on the map showing the location of water spots.

Bluffs due east of Fort Robinson

Leading up the draw

Getting closer to the top

The road went into the ravine, and then suddenly went straight up. Ashke climbed it, although he had already broke a sweat when we reached the top of the first adjustment in altitude. J had to push her bike up. The climb up that canyon was very similar to the climb from the parking lot to the top of Table Mountain. Once we were on top, it was up and down, some of which J could ride, some of them were too steep and had to be walked.

Just before the steepness

This was the top part of the steep trail. Enlarge to see the footing of sharp rock.

Shooting over J’s head at the view

Part of the view

Ashke bodonkadonk

Looking down the trail. It was a comfortable ride under the trees, without being unbearable.

Pretty nifty gate latch. I would definitely use on my property.

Overlooking the plains from the top of the bluff.
This was pretty much the last moment that J or I felt any happiness on this ride.

It was beautiful country.

Trail marker on the top of the bluff.

J kickingd to go Dow ass on Coyote

So, we really should have just turned around and went back. It’s what the other riders we ran into did, but I seem to be categorically incapable of turning around if the word “loop” is in the title of the title. That and neither of us really wanted to ride back down the trail we had ridden up. The map said there was a way down on the far side of the bluff and by damn, we were going to find it.

There really wasn’t a lot of downhill, until we got to the end of the bluff. By that time, the temps were creeping over 95 and we were all seriously sweaty.

Trail sign says Lover’s Leap Trail
We opted to turn left and follow the Red Cloud Trail

The trail turned to single track

For the record, single track alongside the edge of a fairly significant drop off is a great time to work on your dressage. We worked on inside bend, so that his rib cage was bent away from the drop off and his shoulder/head was in that direction. I used my downhill leg to keep him bent away from the drop and balanced him off the outside (up hill) rein. He was very good about listening. (Better than the last time we were riding single track trails). 

We got to the end of the bluff and the trail went down a ravine that looked more like a run off slash than a trail. 

There is a point where you make a decision about turning around and going back or going forward, come hell or high water. We had no intention of turning around and going back, since the map showed us that we were so close to being off the bluff and we just wanted to be down on flat ground. The trail was so much more aggressive than the map had shown and getting off the bluff was the easiest path home. We found another trail marker and headed back to the north losing altitude as we went. We found the next cistern on the map empty of water. There was less than an inch in the bottom of the very large metal container. Ashke slurped up what he could, but there was very little for him to try to drink. There was not enough water for J to wet down her shirt, which would have helped with the heat.

At this point, Ashke, J and I were all sweating profusely. The wind had died when we moved behind the bluff and the temps were in the upper nineties. We followed the trail markers until the trail disappeared and then kept moving in the direction indicated on the map until we found the trail again. We were losing altitude steadily and it seemed that we were getting closer and closer to the road we could see. Right up until we hit the barb wire fence. I found a gate but we weren’t able to get it open and at that point we were off the bluff, but we weren’t able to go anywhere but up. And the up was bad. I think we both realized at that point, we were in over our heads and all we could do at that point was get back.

Single track heading down

See the meadow? That was the low point at the back of the bluff. We took a half hour break, ate a little snack and let Ashke graze some since there wasn’t any other water. Then we started our climb back up (Going forward was shorter on the map than going back.)

J doing the uphill in front of me. We had three climbs of this steepness. By the time we were at the bottom of the second one I was completely covered in sweat, unable to breathe, and in tears. I wanted to throw up I was so nauseous. I got back on Ashke and we headed across a meadow. I saw J dropped her bike and head for some shade, so I found a tree to tie up Ashke and went back for her.

I have to admit I never understood why Lytha made her horses stand tied in the woods as a matter of her training. However, the reason became very clear on Saturday. Ashke was not the most patient, but he managed to not hurt himself while I was helping J. We got her out of the sun, stripped off her helmet and pack, then had her lie down until she stopped feeling dizzy and nauseous. We were there about an hour before she felt good enough to try to make our way back to the top of the bluff. From looking at my Equitrack app, we were almost back to the main trail. It looked like less than a quarter mile. That seemed to give J heart. I mounted up and headed uphill. I found the top pretty quick and located a great place to tie up Ashke. Then I went back down the trail to get J’s bike and help her up the hill. At the top of the hill, I gathered up Ashke and we headed back.

Ashke tied to the first tree.

Mounting up after realizing there were ticks all over Ashke’s legs
I hate ticks.

Once we were back on the trail, heading home was steady and mostly downhill. I got off to walk down the really steep climb taking us down off the bluff. We finally got to the cistern that had water and I pulled Ashke’s bridle to let him drink. He swallowed almost sixty times before coming up for air. As much as J didn’t want to, I made her dunk her head in the cistern to help lower her temp. We made out way back to the trailer where we washed off Ashke and then spent 45 minutes picking the ticks off of his legs. Ashke didn’t move a finger while we were working on his legs. I checked all of the areas, including his sheath, and we seemed to get them all off (these are Rocky Mountain Spotted ticks). We checked three times and didn’t find any more. A huge shout out to J for using the tweezers.

See? We were down and just needed to go to the right to reach the other trails.
So close.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been on trail that long for less than 10 miles. 

After we got back to the trailer, it was covered with boxelder bugs. Thousands of little black and red bugs having sex all over our camper. There aren’t any boxelder trees in the camp ground and no one else had an issue with the infestation. It seemed to be our little issue. They were even inside the camper. They can get everywhere. It was targeted at us. And it was the last straw. Both J and I felt like Red Cloud wanted us gone. (We were enemies in our past. I should have been prepared.) We talked about it briefly, but really once J gets too hot that she begins to slide into heat exhaustion and it takes time for her to come back to normal. And there was supposed to be large thunderstorms on Sunday afternoon. Once we agreed to leave, the bugs left. 

We spent time sleeping and hydrating that afternoon, until it got cool enough to cook dinner. I drank a gallon of water, half a gallon of OJ, a couple of sodas and a couple of gatorades. We spent a low key evening and then headed home the next day. 

I’m happy to know that Ashke can travel like this without any issues. He ate, drank and traveled very well. He was excited and ready to go when I took him out. He was a little unsettled/hyper on Friday night, but settled very well the next morning. We traveled home the four and a half hours and I don’t think he even shifted from side to side. I did stand on the place where Crazy Horse was knifed, but I didn’t really feel anything. In fact, in comparison with so many other places, it really felt empty to me. 

We won’t be back. There are other places where I can take Ashke that I would like better than Fort Robinson. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

May Schooling Show

I flipped back and forth on whether or not I wanted to show in the schooling show. I waited until the last minute to see if the show would fill and when there was still room for me to ride, I entered. Since I was also helping with the show (setting up the tests, course, etc) I needed to be up and at the show venue by  7:30 at the latest to help set up the computer, show the show manager how to use the spreadsheets, and print out a couple of tests that were added at the last moment. Prior to that, I needed to get Ashke loaded and over to the show. I about had a heart attack when I woke up at 6:45. That began the internal dialog I have with myself about whether or not I should show. 

I ended up driving to the show, setting up all of the things, and then going to get Ashke. It was stormy and drizzling, which further acerbated my internal desire to just skip the whole damn thing, but, in the end, I talked myself into showing. My reasoning is that the more exposure I have to a show venue, the more opportunities I have to put myself into those situations and then not die, the less stressful I will feel at the big venues. The bottom line is that Ashke and I need to work out how to work through the stress of a show. I need to figure out a better coping mechanism for dealing with him being spooky and how to ride through it without being panicked, frustrated or angry (the anger stems from the panic, mostly, and some frustration.) The panic comes from still feeling uncertain about my ability to stick a spook - to feeling out of control. Yes, some of it is also my projected anxiety about how I am going to be perceived, which is why a schooling show is a great place to start. 

I warmed up in the outdoor, in the drizzle, at the end of the outdoor arena as far away from the potbellied pig as was humanly possible. Ashke was not a fan. The pig was digging a piggy trench in the dirt along the fence that edged one part of the arena. I worked Ashke at the other end of the arena, starting with shoulder-in, then haunches-in, then some leg yields. I wanted to loosen up his hind end and get him stepping up under himself really well. We did some trot and finished on a couple of canter circles. Just enough to get him warm and moving freely, without making him tired. By that time it was raining pretty good, so I went into the indoor and watched some of the dressage tests being ridden. We were the last ride and Ashke was momumentally bored by the time it was our turn to go. Two riders out, I got on him and worked shoulder-in to haunches-in along the wall of the arena. In a perfect world, I would have warmed him up, then gone in and ridden the test immediately. Alas, we.live in a world of sorrow, filled with difficulty and melancholy. 

Actually, it wasn’t that bad. I got a couple of minutes to warm up inside the dressage arena, during which Ashke snorted and spooked at the flowers set along the endge off the arena. I let him spend one round looking at stuff, then took up contact and rode some shoulder-in/haunches-in and serpentines to get his mind refocused on me. We just went around the dressage court until she rang the bell, and then we rode.

I think its the best test we’ve rode to date. I made a conscious effort to keep my shoulders relaxed, (hearing Amanda in my head “drop your armpits”) which seemed to help Ashke. The judge said after, that it was the best ride she’s seen us have, and that Ashke wasn’t above the bit most of the ride and when he was, it was very brief. I could hear Amanda in my head for most of the ride “don’t give with your hands” on the canter circle at the medium canter (although I did give too much in our medium trot, which is why we got the rushing comment - he can come up in the front and through at that medium trot, but I have to ride it better). Going through and adding the comments after the movements in the video allowed me to really absorb the feedback and I believe it was spot on.

This was the first ride where I was able to stay ahead of the test, with the exception of the medium trot, which kind of caught me off guard, since I was mentally berating myself for not having trotted him down center line in the warm up, ride every stride, prepare in advance and not have an asthma attack. I may finally be getting the hang of this dressage test stuff. It was also the first time in a dressage court that Ashke didn’t react to outside stimuli. There was no spooking, although he did cock an ear at a couple of the flower pots. It has helped that we work on pieces of the test and we just needed to string the pieces together.

Areas where we can improve: using our corners and working on our turn on the haunches to the “hard” side. Lateral work in general to the “hard” side will help improve both the dressage test and our EOH. I thought the leg yields were very solid, although we still need more bend in our circle. Part of the issue is feeling confident that Ashke can handle the request for more bend without throwing away his haunches. It will come with more work.

The EOH was several hours later. We did school the Intro course at about noon, and Ashke was so good the first ride through we did. No spook, great response. But then we waited for another three hours and when we went into school the L2-L4 course he was a freaking mess. I was so frustrated with him and started to get angry. But then I stopped and asked myself why I was stressing about a schooling show. We were there specifically so I could work on relieving my anxiety and helping the two of us find a path through his spookiness. I thought about what Amanda would have asked me to do, and implemented it. Instead of worrying about the obstacles or the course, I started the shoulder-in, haunches-in on the outside of the arena around and around. I told him he was a good, brave boy and to pay attention to me, rather than looking around. And I ignored the rest. We did that until we were kicked out of the arena, and then we did shoulder-in, haunches-in, leg yields and serpentines in the dirt packed roadway in front of the arena until he was completely focused on me. Then I got off and waited until our ride. Two riders before me, I got back on and walked, trotted and some serpentine canter in the roadway, then went in for our EOH ride.

He did so much better than I expected. There was a moment at 23 secs where something happened with his left hind leg. I don’t know if the stifle locked or something else happened. I thought he had slipped on the footing, but in watching the video, something else happened. I plan on showing the chiro the next time she adjusts him to see if she can tell what happened. He was a little flinchy through his body, but only tried to get away from me once, before the pen. I could feel him getting tired as we went into the slalom work and that was reflected in the scores we earned. I need to make sure to address this issue with Amanda and see if we can work on improving his stamina in his collected work. 

I waivered on the Speed round. I wasn’t sure if I should push it, but in the interest of keeping the show format (its not going to help us if we only do the two parts instead of three) and the fact that Ashke loves the speed round, we rode it.

My only regret was the stop at the end of the bell corridor. I didn’t prepare him correctly, being too focused on keeping him collected for the L turn, and not using the half halt to prep him to stop. That was why I stopped briefly and let him bring his head down and settle. That is also why he got a “good boy” and a pat on the neck as well. I felt that he was happy with being able to move ahead, and his drums were much better in the speed round than in the EOH round.  Amanda has been talking about adjustability within the gait. I felt that we actually had that in the Speed round. It wasn’t the flailing, balls to the wall round of yore. 

There was a moment when I handed Ashke off to a watcher to help the show manager with the scoring for the show. When I finished showing her how the scoring sheet worked I walked out from behind the divider. Ashke saw me, his head came up, his ears focused on me, and I said “hey buddy”. He whinnied like he hadn’t seen me for two years. I said, “I’m sorry I was gone so long. I missed you so much.” He whinnied in response. It was an awesome response from him. 

He is just such a great horse.

I think I have packed a couple of tools in my tool box. I need to remain calm and ignore his antics. I need to not worry about how he is going to react and ride as if there was nothing out of the ordinary. If I can support him with my legs, ignore his distractions, and ride as if we are practicing with Amanda, it will help him focus. I was pretty happy with our rides, how I managed to ignore my baser instincts and reach for connection rather than fighting with him. (There was a brief fight, but I changed my approach pretty quickly.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Media Dump

Sometime last week, Ashke and Ardee got to go into the turn out together. They seemed to have a great time with one another and the light from the setting sun was absolutely breathtaking. Ashke and Ardee handled being out together really well, but it was a hot mess when we added Noosh. Ashke got all arched and squeely, and thinking he was all that. We separated them before the playful front strike thing became deadly serious.

 Look at how uphill he is moving here.

 Chasing Ardee

 Wide nostrils and attitude.

Visual difference between TB and Arab?
Or respectful guy chasing his girl?

I tried to ride on Sunday in the late afternoon, but between the gun shots outside the barn and the wind, I had a hot spooky mess on my hands. I got off and we cantered in circles for twenty minutes at the end of the lunge, until the pitiful looks I was getting from the unicorn finally melted my bitter, hard heart. 

Last night, he was amazing. It is so interesting how I can ride and work on something without feeling like we are making progress. For like months. And then one day, I step into the saddle and he has taken a quantum leap forward. That is what last night felt like - a huge jump forward in ability.

One of the things we are working on is the areas of his responsibility and my responsibility. I want to ask him for the transition to a new gait and have him maintain that gait without me having to nag him. He is working on it. I also had canter work that approached straightness, without him throwing his hips around, very soft transitions between canter-walk-canter on the figure 8 and a definite change of gait in the medium to collected canter. 

Second of three in each direction

To the "hard" direction

I was riding with my hands wide. Ashke still has a tendency to throw his head up in the air when the work becomes difficult. Amanda and I are encouraging him to live in the house we are building and if he continues to work over his back, he will get strong enough to carry himself there all the time. 

 Trying to get Irina to agree that he works very hard all the time.
Doesn't he kind of look like a Beatle?

 Artistic impressions

New leather halter with rolled noseband. Really looks great on him.

We opted to ride mostly in the "safe" end of the arena, because I have very few rides left here and there is no reason to fight about it. This week, we have visitors coming into town for Tristan's graduation, the actual graduation ceremony, the dinner with family and his besties the night after graduation, and a tattoo consult for Tristan's arm band Saturday morning. I am hoping to ride on Saturday afternoon, but then will be at a show all day on Sunday (not riding, working). Monday - Wedsnesday, he will be left to his own devises, supervised by Irina, while I am traveling for work. Then, on Friday morning, J and I load up the camper and the horse trailer to head to Fort Robinson for the weekend. I'm both excited and nervous about going. Then we have a short week and I move him to the new barn on the 1st.

Sunday, May 13, 2018


Due to a combination of events, which I am not going to get into here, I have given notice at my current boarding situation and am waiting for the end of the month to move to a new boarding facility. In the meantime, we hauled over to the new place yesterday to take a lesson with Amanda.

Ashke seemed excited and intrigued by the new barn and although he hollered a couple of times, he was actually more relaxed and less spooky than he is in his current arena. The new place is. HUGE. We did the lesson in the last 1/4 of the arena and it was still a larger space than where we are now. The best thing about the new place is that there is a trail to explore at the end of the drive way.

Anyway, J was with me and took a couple of videos.

Canter Half Pass

You can hear Amanda talking to me via her headset
What you can’t hear is my responses

Stepping up and under with the right hind still isn’t as smooth as it could be, but we are getting there

Working on movements from the test
We are going to use my cones and a couple of poles to set a dressage court up, so I can really practice the movements within the confines of the court

The other direction is harder for him

His medium trot is getting better

I didn’t get it on video, but we finished up with the medium canter to collected canter circles. He is really showing a difference in the two gaits, which we have been working on. I have to ride it really well, but we are doing so much better in my opinion. That was one of the areas where we lost points in the show.  If we can improve from a four to a six or six and a half, that should push us into the lower sixties for our dressage score.

After our ride, we turned Ashke and Kat out into the small turnout paddock for fifteen minutes. This small paddock is attached to a ten acre field that at some point we will use, but L and I didn’t want to spend our afternoon chasing horses around the large field in the rain.


Saturday, May 5, 2018

Demo Day

High Country Working Equitation did a Demo Day today as part of a social event to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. It was held at Plane View Farms (where the mattress incident happened a year ago) and we had a seasoned rider demonstrate their level for Intro to Intermediate B. I was the rider chosen for Intermediate A. The above video is of my ride. Below are my thoughts.

1. It did not look as bad as it felt. 

We had warmed up early in the morning, then the horses waited while we did lunch, then we did a little warm up again before standing for 40 minutes before actually riding. Guess who didn’t want to get with that program?  Ashke spooked at the wall in the first turn in the double slalom and every right turn after that. He wasn’t very relaxed or willing to stay within our frame. But still, the video did not look as bad as it felt.

2. My anxiety makes Ashke more spooky. 

Guess who didn’t spook during warm up? That’s right, he only got tense and spooky because I was anxious. And I was at the puking stage of anxiety last night at about 1 am, the I-want-to-quit all the things phase of anxiety, and finished up with the crying-while-driving phase of anxiety while hauling over to PVF. But I didn’t die. And the ride was decent, and just like our canter half-passes get better when I ride better, our shows will get better when I get over this horrible anxiety.

3. I can still sit a spook.

It felt like he looked up, saw the bull and went “Oh shit”. I almost came off. I stopped him, made him back up a bit and told him “that’s quite enough”. I felt like I was about to come off, but it didn’t look nearly that bad.

4. Getting angry at him makes things so much worse.

I did not get angry today. I stopped him, reminded him that this was our day job, and kept fucking riding. He settled some after that moment and we finished our ride. He is acting this way because I am projecting feelings he is interpreting as threatening and he stops trusting me. Stopping and backing in the middle of our ride was the best thing I could have done, since that is what I do in my other rides when he hasn’t given me the correct answer, and it helped reset his brain. I think he realized at that point that I wasn’t angry or upset and that this was just business as usual. 

5. Practice makes things better.

If he can learn to do a canter half-passes, then we can learn to ride without anxiety on either of our parts. We just need to keep putting both of us in situations similar to a show environment, until we both stop reacting. There were things I would have thought would have been better from our lessons and practice, however, the tension that we were dealing with in this demo wrecked that. The good news is I didn’t use myself inhaler and didn’t have an asthma attack, even after an 8 minute EOH canter ride.

6. This was our first EOH ride in front of an audience at Intermediate A.

We didn’t ride anything but the dressage test at Expo, so this was the first EOH ride we’ve done at this level. I have practiced a couple of courses but as we have seen, practice is much different than a show environment. Hopefully, this experience will temper our reaction going forward.   

Wednesday, May 2, 2018


A life is made up of moments, snapshots in time, a flicker of memory and emotion.
I have had the privilege of sharing eighteen years worth of those moments with my son.

Eighteen years ago, they laid my son on my belly and I looked down into his eyes for the first time.. Being his mom has been the most incredible journey of love, terror, happiness and sorrow I have ever known. I have spent the past eighteen years living with my heart outside of my body, watching him grow into himself, each step into adulthood with it’s own new terror, faith and excitement. One of the things I was very clear on when he was laid on my belly for the first time and I looked into his eyes, was that I had the opportunity to know this creature from his first independent breath to the moment of death. Our parents are the only people in the universe with the ability to know us all of our lives.

I watched the movie, Instinct, with Anthony Hopkins while I was pregnant. Anthony plays a man being held for murder in a psych ward and Cuba Gooding Jr was his psychologist. As the story unfolds, you find out that Anthony was an anthropologist who had basically been adopted by a group of gorillas and accepted into their family unit. He had lost himself in the experience, paying more attention to the gorillas than anything else, and unknowingly had provided poachers with the information that led them to "his" group of gorillas, which were subsequently killed or captured. Anthony went a little crazy with grief and killed the poachers, although the damage to his “family” was done. He told this story to his estranged daughter during one of the final scenes in the movie. He said "when a baby gorilla is born, it's mother picks it up and takes it with her everywhere." He then looks at his daughter and says "if I could change one thing in my life, I would go back in time and take you with me everywhere." That became my focus: we would take him with us every where.

The Lakota believed that it took the energy and attention of both parents between five and seven years to raise an outstanding individual. They were much more interested as a culture in raising one or possibly two kids to be outstanding individuals then they were in raising a whole parcel of children. The idea was that the energy of the parents would be directed to the growth, education and development of one exceptional individual. I knew, because of my age and the fact that J was also a woman, that he would be my only birth. I was fully prepared to focus time, energy, sleep and other activities into raising one exceptional individual. He may not be exceptional to the world, but to me he is. 

The combination of those two thoughts - taking him with us every where and raising an exceptional individual - became the guiding influences in raising Tristan. I had no desire for the Cat's Cradle version of parenting, no desire to miss even a second of his life and already felt that the time he spent in daycare was too much. When we had obligations that didn't allow for him, he stayed with his god mother.

I'm so pleased with the results of this eighteen year endeavor of love. He is a hulking, six foot tall young man with facial hair, a flashing, bright smile, a strong sense of social justice and opinions. OMG, the opinions. And yet, he is still the bright eyed, born-aware boy that I first met. One of the things that was very clear to me, from the very first moment he was laid in my arms is that he was his own person: inside of him was the man he would grow into and if we didn't raise him with that in mind, we would lose the adult. I had no intention of losing the adult. He was not a possession or a reflection of us - he was his own person. We had the privilege of safeguarding his early years, of providing guidance and allowing growth, while always remembering he was his own strange, goofy, endearing person.

We really embraced the whole idea of carrying him with us everywhere. He might have been two before he was put down. . . . because he did not get a lot of floor time, he didn't crawl until Christmas Eve. He was eight and a half months old at that point. Once he figured out how to go forward - he crawled backwards for the first couple of days, but hey, it was movement - it didn't take long for him to find his feet and start cruising. He was standing and trying to walk by the time he was eleven months old. Not very good at it, but still trying.

Some of his first steps in the spring just before his birthday.

It didn't take long before he started to run, jump and climb. He seemed fearless and adventuresome, as long as a mom was close by. 

There was a parent ready to catch him just out of screen shot.

His very first word was Ahbla, which meant "what's that?" Once we figured that word out, his language acquisition took off. We spent several months answering the question poised with pointed finger at everything he could see. He was also very good at using his hands and body to let us know what it was he wanted. J taught him a few words of sign language, but mostly he communicated via pointing and the occasional grunt. Among his first words was airplane and motorcycle, which he could see and identify from his center fixed car seat at a distance of several blocks. He was fascinated by speed and sound.

My favorite part of this clip is when J goes to set him down and he curls up like a monkey.

Tristan slept  held in my arms for the first year. He had horrible ear infections from the time he was two weeks old, which would clear up for the length of time it took him to be on the antibiotic, then about four days later, they came back. He did best sleeping held upright on my shoulder. Additionally, I was unable to breast feed and pumped the first four weeks, feeding him from a bottle. He was waking up every two hours for a bottle, so it was easiest for me to feed him without waking anyone else. We finally had his tubes done when he was almost a year old, which cleaned up the ear issues.

Tristan co-slept on a mattress in our room. Our room was wall to wall mattress for a while. One day when he was three and a half, we were playing in his room and he asked if he could sleep in there, on the condition he got a comfy blanket. J was ecstatic. We went to the store and he got a Spider-Man comforter. He has slept in his room ever since.

This is an indoor gym. The one we ordered sixteen years ago, had a bar that hung down from the fixed doorway bar with those red handholds attached to the bottom. He could do the parallel bar or the handle. In addition, we had the cloth swing, not a hard plastic one.
The one we ordered was designed for disabled kids to use for therapy.

By the time he was two, his love affair with movies was well established. It is a passion he and I share. For him, it started with a Bug's Life. He must have watched that movie two thousand times before he finally branched out to watch something else. When he was three we got him an indoor swing that hung in the doorway to his room. He would swing on his swing while watching movies on his TV.  Usually nekkid, except for his socks. He played on that swing until he was too big, about twelve or so. That indoor swing was the best thing we got him when he was young. The playground in our complex was minimal and the nearest park was a ten minute drive away, and so the indoor swing allowed him to do some of the things he could have done at the park in his own time. 

His favorites were LOTR, which he saw in the theater starting when he was 18 months old, all of the Star Wars movies, including the Clone Wars series on Comedy Central. The Attack of the Clones was one of the very first movies we took him to in the theater, along with Fellowship of the Ring. Not only did he "get" them but he loved them. He was 18 months old when we saw Fellowship, and 32 months old when we watched Attack of the Clones and The Two Towers. We were a little worried that he might be afraid, but he stood on his chair and cheered when the Riders of Rohan attacked the goblins riding Wargs. The only movie we ever watched together that freaked him out was the movie Deep Impact. I think he was about five when we watched that together and he HATED it.

Star Wars became instrumental in our house in generating conversations with Tristan about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I know so many people who hated the prequels, but I loved them, especially seen through the eyes of my boy. To my generation, Darth Vader was the ultimate evil overlord, the definitive avatar of all that was bad in the world. To Tristan, he was the ultimate romantic hero who sacrificed everything to try and save the woman he loved. It was a good reminder that even those who seek to do harm in the world were once a small child. The stories also helped generate discussions about power, the abuse of power, the ways in which people manipulate each other (he said it malipinate for the longest time), how even those who seem to be the wisest among us can make mistakes based out of fear of the future (Obi-Wan and Yoda), and the power of true love (Anakin and Padme). We collected all of the things Star Wars and still have in-depth discussions about the franchise. Tristan has the full collection of every die cast vehicle Hasbro made from the franchise. And a very fancy battle light saber.

In the past four years, I have enjoyed going to see movies with him and find him hilarious in talking about the shows afterwards. We have similar tastes in what we like, although he is much more of a comic movie buff than I am (I admit I fell asleep in Batman vs Superman). He can quote lines from the movie after watching it one time, sometimes as much as five or ten lines in a row. He will watch his favorites over and over again. We've walked out of a couple of movies - The Circle for one - and asked WTF? Why? (Downsizing is another.) When were we going to get that two hours back? (I especially take the heat if it was my idea to go see the movie.) Although, I was right about the Accountant being kick ass. The really great movies can keep us talking about them for days. (Black Panther, I'm looking at you.) And going back to watch again and again (The Last Jedi, A Quiet Place). 

It's not just movies, but some TV shows as well. Tristan was introduced to Friends in 8th grade by his English teacher and loved the series. (I already owned all ten seasons on iTunes.) I think he's probably watched all ten seasons at least ten times. He will quote obscure lines from the series, which I recognize and can reply to. Most recently, we watched Teen Wolf together, often times curled up in the same chair during the really scary parts (he was almost six foot tall at that point). It became a date night for us. Those are the memories I cherish the most.

At four, Tristan took Tae-kwon-do lessons with a wonderful teacher at a local dojo we found. The lessons started with some tumbling, beginning to learn the first test, running, jumping, and most importantly, learning to listen and follow directions. It was instrumental in developing Tristan's early large motor skills, his balance, his innate athletic ability, how to follow directions and taught him a key life lesson. It was such a good thing for him. He is a solitary dude, not liking group sports, and Tae-kwon-do fit right into that concept. I spent hours watching his development and helping him practice.

One of the things he learned was the concept of "you don't have to be perfect but you have to try", which carried him through some tough moments doing homework. We lived that concept in our house, which taught him that things don't always come easy, you have to wrk hard sometimes to make things work, and no one is perfect. I personally believe that our children need to see us as flawed, failing adults who are willing to own up to their mistakes, not as perfect, unattainable figures incapable of admitting when they have done wrong. He progressed up the ranks from White Belt to Low Blue Belt by the time he was in 2nd grade. Unfortunately, second grade was one of those times in his education where things were not as they should be and we had to drop the Tae-kwon-do.

One of his only serious injuries happened at Tae-kwon-do. He slipped on the polished practice floor and landed on his forearm. It was bruised and sore, but not swollen and he could still use the arm. We used ice and an ace bandage and waited to see what would happen. The next day at school, he grabbed his backpack and yanked to pick it up and the hairline crack he had given himself broke. It was a greenstick fracture of his left ulna. Lots of money we didn't have later and he was sporting a fancy blue cast on his left arm. It came off about the time kindergarten ended.

When Tristan was fourteen months old, we were in Costco and a ten year old boy whizzed past us on heelies. Heelies were a shoe concept that had a tennis shoe top and a wide wheel in the heel of the shoe. The kid wearing them (too dangerous for adults, honestly) could walk, run or ride the wheel in the back of the shoe. The first kid we saw on them zipped past us at Mach 10, Tristan's eyes went wide with desire and he didn’t stop watching that kid until he was out of sight.  He demanded a pair immediately and every time after that, whenever he saw a kid on them. Fortunately, they didn’t make them for toddlers and we told him when his feet got big enough to fit into their smallest pair, we would buy them for him. Every time we walked into a store that sold shoes he asked. For almost four years. Kid has a mind like a steel trap. When  he was almost five, we found a pair that fit his feet. We had to buy them immediately, because once you've set up the parameters of ownership, you have to follow through.

We took him to a local mall, which had some carpet, but also strips of bare floor running along the walls. The bare floor was wide enough to provide him a place to learn to manage the wheels. We told him that he was going to fall a lot, that it was going to hurt a lot, and that the only way he was going to learn to get better was to get up and keep trying. We couldn't make it easier for him. It was going to be hard. We could be there for support but if this was something he wanted, he had to figure out how to make it happen. We followed him around that mall for two hours, sometimes having to wipe away tears, always offering him the option to stop and try another day, but he refused. He absolutely wanted to skate on the heelies. He had figured out how to make them work by the end of that day.

From that moment until he was twelve or so, Heelies were his shoe of choice. He wore them to school and would skate down the halls when no one was looking. His favorite place to wear them was Costco, where I would spin him in a half circle and send him flying down the aisles of the store. He taught himself to spin in circles, weave in and out of traffic, and to skate backwards on the heelies. It was pretty amazing.

For his seventh birthday, we got him aggressive inline rollerblades. J and I had rollerbladed before I hurt my back and really loved it. However, the skating J and I did was so different from the skating he did. Ours was moving down the sidewalk in a fairly straight line, while his was in skate parks going up and down ramps, and jumping things. It was an inspired choice. Watching him skate on the heelies, figuring out how to throw tricks on one heel, I knew we needed to get him inline skates. So, for his seventh birthday, we gave him a pair of trick skates, which came with a grind plate and fat, white wheels. Which he hated. We took him to the skate park and turned him loose, telling him it would take him a little while to figure them out. There were tears and shouting and much anger, which I countered by telling him we could take them back if he really didn't like them. That just made him try even harder. And then, an hour after we showed up at the skate park, he was trying to jump the corner of a box, coming up a ramp to try a 180 spin, figuring out how to keep himself upright and mobile despite the frustration of falling and learning and reeducating himself to four inline wheels versus one in the heel of his shoe. It became a huge passion of his. 

For six years, one of my favorite things to do was to sit and watch him fly on his skates. He was absolutely amazing. In Denver, we have a wonderful outdoor skate park. It is amazing and we spent so much time there watching him skate that I can't begin to tally the hours. During the winter, Woodward had an indoor skate park that he loved. He did a summer camp at Woodward and that was the only time I've known him to be too tired to eat. I would pick him up at 6 pm and he would be covered in sweat, unable to keep his eyes open and barely able to walk. But he loved skating all day long. He even did a couple of skate events through Woodward. He learned so much and was so amazing on skates.

At Woodward, indoor skate park

Christmas 2008 at Woodward
(I got a little creative with this video)

Denver Skate Park

Flying Squirrel

In this video, you can see him jumping a fixed metal rail set in the concrete. My "oh shit" at the first jump was the very first time he tried jumping the rail from the bowl. I had my heart in my chest (I had told him I thought it was too dangerous) but he knew he could clear the rail. Some kids are born without fear and on skates and skis he is fearless.

He was so amazing to me and completely fearless

Unfortunately, between his growing into an adult body, and his attaining the Xbox 360, skating became a thing of his childhood. By the time he was fourteen, the skates had been packed away and his time was spent developing a new set of online skills.

One of the most memorable and special summers of my entire life was the summer Tristan was six. I was in school for the summer, taking three classes and trying to finish my degree by December. Tristan had finished kindergarten and I had arranged babysitting with friends for the time I was in school. To help us both occupy our time, I got us Water World passes.

Water World is an amazing water park five minutes from our house. It has a ton of attractions, including a wave pool, several tube rides, slides, you name it, they have it. The park opens at 10 and closes at 6 pm, so we could spend any amount of time there we wanted. It was so much fun. Tristan and I had an amazing time. We knew when the lines would be the shortest. Some days we showed up at 10 am and spent all day playing, some days we got there about 2 and just spent the hottest part of the day playing.

Every time we went, there were a set number of rides we would do: there was one that was a slide you rode a hard thick plastic sled down. The sled had wheels and was designed to skim the top of the water across a pool at the bottom. Tristan and I balanced the sled so perfectly that we could skim almost the entire length of the pool. We also loved the Land Before Time ride with its underground tunnels, motion activated dinosaurs and sudden drops and spins in the darkness. The Egyptian ride started and ended outside, but had a great inside part with super visual effects. All of these rides required carrying a huge tube up a long hill to the top of the ride, which is hard enough with a couple of adults helping, and much more difficult with just myself and a six year old.

There was a surf simulator at Water World. If you've never seen one, it has two sides which generate an incredibly intense wave by shooting a huge stream of water at high pressure into a curved bowl. The ADULT men who were riding these waves did so on a small boogie board (taller than Tristan at that point in his life) and they could ride for five or ten minutes at a time, spinning and flipping themselves and their boards around in the curl of water generated by the simulator. It was pretty cool to watch. Most of the other people who tried it ended up flipped, dunked and spun out onto the landing area of the ride.

Tristan was obsessed with riding the simulator. In his mind, he was going to be just as awesome as the guys spinning and flipping on their boards. Finally, after asking and asking, and spending time sitting and watching the really good guys show off, I said yes. I had to carry the board back for him because it was too big for him to carry on his own. When it was his turn, we had to hold the board at the entry point for the ride for him to get on, because he wasn't tall enough to hold the board and launch himself at the same time. Finally, he was ready and the ride operator pushed the board forward into the high powered stream. The water caught the front of the board, flipped it straight up into the air and spun it and him into the whirling melee of water. I raced around the outside of the simulator (huge concrete walls) to find him climbing to his feet on the landing pad (think big screen the water falls through). He was soaked head to toe and shivering in reaction. As he got to his feet a cheer went up from the men watching. They applauded his try. He turned and gave them a Tae-know-do bow, then shivered his way over to me. I was proud he didn't cry and could see that the cheer he earned undid a bit of his fear and anxiety. He didn't try it again, however.

It was such an incredible summer of fun. We must have spent at least three days a week at that park. It was magical. I was so lucky to have had the time and space to create those memories for myself and for him. I'm not sure how much he remembers, since he was so young at the time, but I remember and will cherish that summer. One of the things that sticks out the most about that summer is that it was conflict free. Tristan and I didn't fight or struggle or argue about anything.

I think it was a pretty easy jump from watching him skate to thinking about getting him on skis. He already had the balance and ability on his blades, making the jump to skis should have been an easy thing. The only thing to consider was if he would like it. I can say with no hesitation, that skiing became his "thing".

We started him at Winter Park the winter he was seven, and I think he took three lessons the first year. He was skiing up and down the green runs by the end of his first day, and working on blues by the end of his third lesson. He kind of took to it like a fish to water. By the time he was ten, he had taken enough lessons that he could go up and down the green and blue runs at Winter Park by himself. J and I would sit in the lodge at the bottom of the run watching him come down the face of Village Way, ski back to the ski lift and go back up the mountain. I skied so much when I was young and I never lost my fear of being on the ski lift. Tristan has no fear and sometimes doesn't even pull the bar down. He also has no issue with the chair rocking.

 Winter Park Senior Photos

He took his last lesson when he was ten and the instructor told us afterwards that what he needed was practice, just time on the mountain. The instructor said that until he could just ski for days at a time, taking lessons would not improve his ability. He needed to practice.

We put him in a ski club for kids the next year. As part of that ski club, we put him on a big charter bus (had movie screens and super comfy seats) and sent him to Winter Park. He would get there just as the lifts were opening, ski in the morning with an instructor, then free ski in the afternoon with a ski buddy. It was great for him, since the kids he knew from the bus were close to his age and they skied together for six years or so. He ended up doing a total of eight or nine days per season (Saturday only) on average, and the final three years he didn't take many lessons, mostly just skiing with his friends for the entire day.

 This is a Ruroc helmet. He has purchased two so far with money that he earned working.
It's called the Reaper. It's pretty kick ass.

 Absolutely fearless
We didn't do the Eskimo Club in 2017-2018, because he was driving by August and J got both a ski pass and a ski bike. We've always done the ski rental for Tristan for the season (great value while they are still growing) which has worked nicely in our favor. J drove them up and they spent more than ten days skiing. I think it was great for the two of them, to be able to share shredding the slopes, although most of the time, Tristan was off skiing the double black diamond runs of Mary Jane. They started skiing in November and ended up skiing through the end of March, even with the poor snow conditions we had this year.

Black Diamond Run, Mary Jane

In January, as an early birthday present, we helped Tristan get new skis. He picked out a pair of Sir Francis Bacon twin tip skis made by Line (the turning radius on these is incredibly tight and they were rated well for the type of skiing Tristan enjoys) with boots by Dalbello and middle of the road bindings. Tristan, in an effort to promote fiscal responsibility on our parts, paid for half the cost, while we covered the other half. He was amazed and excited to try them out and texted me from the ski lift "it was like I was blind and now I can ski". (Yes, he is a very funny guy.)

 No smiles because models don't smile.

One of the saddest parts of his childhood is the lack of friends who shared the same interests. He went to a small charter school (only viable option in our area - the other schools in our district had a sub-50% graduation rate) and no one skied. They were into football, soccer and basketball, all of which never held any interest for Tristan. The school did a single trip to Winter Park as part of the High School activities, but he only went the first year. They were required to spend the day in a lesson, skiing green runs, which held no interest for him even as a freshman. The good news is, he is accepted to college in the fall and I am hopeful that he will get involved with the ski club they offer, which will give him peers he can travel with and ski with. We've already purchased ski passes for him and J, so at the least they can ski together. The college he is going to is a commuter college so he will be living at home with us until he is done with school.
 Pretty happy guy here

No boundries. No limits.

When Tristan was about six I introduced him to Pokemon. We collected the cards, which are actually used to play the Pokemon game. We found a league that met twice a month, built customized decks and played against other Poke enthusiasts. I quickly figured out that one could go broke trying to purchase enough booster packs to fill out the decks and opted for single card purchases off Ebay. I helped Tristan construct a deck that could beat anyone he competed against, which at seven is the only thing that really matters. He and I played for a couple of years until I realized that it was a rich persons game and you really had to spend a mortgage worth of money on boosters and new games in order to be competitive.

Additionally, we played the gameboy version of Pokemon, which then morphed into the Nintendo DS version of Pokemon. I loved those games and Tristan really enjoyed them as well. He would come to me for help when it got too frustrating for him to continue to play. He figured out really quick that there were online codes he could use to cheat the game and from there it became more about breaking game than about playing it. I still enjoy the Pokemon universe and sometimes pick a game up to play. He, however, has moved on.

For Christmas of his sixth year, we got him a GameCube and the Lego Star Wars game. Can I just say the two weeks of Christmas break are the only time I have ever obsessed about a video game in my life. We played from when we woke up until after midnight most days. J would get up to go to work (I had just graduated from college and was job searching), we would get up and start playing, take a short break for lunch, J would come home, fix dinner, call us up for dinner, watch us go back down to play and then come down to say goodnight. We played all six episodes and the way through by the end of that two weeks. It was so much fun. I spent so much of the time yelling at Tristan to follow me through the game, plus it was much more fun for him once I located the download code for invincibility. Being able to play Lego Star Wars with a six year old that can't die makes it so much better.

The GameCube was replaced pretty quickly by the Wii. However, what Tristan really wanted was an Xbox 360. We weren't sure, since it opened the door for so many other types of games. Luckily, we had a close friend that was the coordinator of the after school and summer program through his school for several years who knew us, knew Tristan and could help provide insight into this new world. About that time I also found an article about boys, online life and gaming. The article talked about how technology is changing the way boys interact with each other, specifically through the world of gaming. I felt this was significant for Tristan, since he was in an open district school and none of the boys he went to school with lived closer than several miles from him. We ended up getting him an Xbox for his 12th birthday.

That changed the entire world for him.

By June, he had convinced us to buy him the Halo Reach game. It is a first person shooter with online play. I must have watched him play hours and hours of that game. I tried to play with him, since this was a game that you had to play the story prior to having access to the entirety of the online play. It was such a different game environment from Pokemon. When we played games together when he was younger, I was the leader and directed our play. With FPS, Tristan was like a fish in water and he was the one in control. I found it very confusing. He would use me as a place holder, setting me in place behind a tree or rock, and directing me to stay there without moving while he worked through the advancing enemies. That way, if/when he died, he didn't have to start the level all over, but instead would spawn next to where he had left me. There was a time in the game when he was yelling at me to join him, but I had no idea where he was. He said, "mom, turn around! No, the other way! Do you see me? I'm the one jumping up and down over here. Come over to me." I really sucked at that game but I loved watching him play.

Now, he lives for his video games. He socializes with his friends via the connection on Xbox One and even though he sometimes chooses to play over real life activities, its become apparent that for him this is real life. I have heard discussions between him and his core group of friends covering relationship issues, racism, politics, food, sports, activities and things going on within his group. One of his best friends is in college and yet they still play and talk and interact even if his friend is five hours away. It is an amazing look at the new world we are evolving into and how the world is getting smaller because of it.

This child of mine has a vast, rich, expansive imagination. It is something that we've fed via books (although he prefers movies over reading), conversations, YouTube and life. He started playing a game when he was about two that existed entirely in his head. He typically found a small, handheld toy he could use as a prop while playing whatever game he was playing. Sometimes he is acting out scenes from a movie, sometimes its scenes from a video game, sometimes its whatever is going on in his head at any given moment. It is an amazing thing to listen to . . . he used to do it around us, but now he only does it when he is alone.

The summer we spent at WaterWorld, he was taken care of by several friends of mine. One of them took him one morning when I had a test and when I returned she told me he had spent the entire day following her from room to room playing with an airplane he had picked up. I laughed and said, "Oh, that's not an airplane." She looked at me funny and asked what it was. I turned to Tristan and asked him what he was playing. He said Spiderman. The woman who had been watching him was amazed. Not only was he playing a game inside his head, it had nothing to do with the toy he was using and it had gone on for almost three hours.

By the time he was eight or so, he was pretty much tied to one toy to play this game. It was a die cast airplane made by Hasbro. It looked like the one below. It was an amazing thing to watch him play. Sometimes I could tell what game was going on in his head and sometimes it was something completely new.

When he hit middle school, one of his friends found out that he was still playing this game and they teased him about it. That's when his game became private and hidden. He didn't want to stop playing, but he didn't want anyone to know. We ended up having to purchase several planes off Ebay because he broke his last one and he couldn't continue to play. This game is still being played. Not as often. Not in front of anyone. But I couldn't help but tears in my eyes last night as I listened to him play.

Can I tell you how impressed I am at his vast curiosity? We've loved all things space since he was one. When he was five I explained to him the concept of folding space, or at least started to explain it, when he folded the map in his mind and explained how you could travel between the spots that way. I've found information on line that I've wanted to talk to him about and when I've brought it up he had already found the information via YouTube. I looked at him funny and he said he had gotten sucked down a space-time YouTube hole.

I can't tell you how proud I am of the young man he has grown into. It has been such a privilege to watch him grow and develop, and although there have been times where our communication has been stifled by his development, I persisted in talking to him even if he wasn't answering, until we got through to the other side. I know he doesn't tell me everything, but he knows he can, and he chooses to share the important parts of his life. I'm so excited about his future plans, his acceptance into an Aerospace program in college, his passion and love for animals and our environment, his bone deep belief in affirmative yes in relationships and his adamant devotion to equality, equity, compromise and empathetic connection to all things. He is more amazing than I have words for.